Workers are feeling the squeeze of the cost-of-living crisis, with energy bills set to soar in April. This will plunge an estimated six million households into fuel poverty – the highest level since 1996.
As many as a quarter of a million of the UK’s poorest households will be unable to access Rishi Sunak’s meagre £200 energy bill loan due to outdated prepayment metres.
Big business bosses, meanwhile, have spent the winter showing just how completely out of touch and out of ideas they really are – all the while continuing to pay out billions to shareholders.
Responding to the news of soaring household energy costs, Tory business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng cynically stated that the British people would be willing to suffer “hardship” in the months ahead in “solidarity” with Ukraine.
This ‘we’re all in it together’ rhetoric from Tory ministers rings hollow, however, given the chasm between the day-to-day experiences of the working class – defined by constant attacks on living conditions – and those of the bosses.
Whilst ordinary families suffer the brunt of this crisis, the bosses and shareholders of the big energy monopolies are enjoying juicy profits, greater than ever before.
A recent report from left-wing think tank Common Wealth, for example, revealed that electricity and gas distribution network owners paid shareholders eye-watering dividends of £3.6 billion and £2.4 billion respectively from 2017-2021.
This was thanks to record-high profit margins of over 40 per cent, higher than over 400 other industries across the UK economy.
Capitalism to blame
The dislocation of the war and the pandemic has certainly served to push up prices across the board: from food, to fuel, to other key commodities.
But the cause of the energy crisis is not simply the conflict in Ukraine, as the Tories have attempted to claim. Nor is it merely the result of rising wholesale gas prices, which started climbing last autumn.
This energy crisis was years in the making: a product of the disaster of privatisation; the anarchy of the market; and the chaos of capitalism. And minor, piecemeal reforms will not solve it.
The obscene profit margins being made by these giant energy firms show the real root of the problem.
In the 1990s, energy infrastructure in the UK – along with other key industries – was broken up and sold-off to private buyers. This was followed by decades of negligence and profiteering by the new capitalist owners.
As long as the energy sector is run on the basis of profit, this will always be the case.
Blackouts and bailouts
These fat cats have no interest in investing to improve the supply and sustainability of energy. They only care about maximising their profits, without any concern for the poverty and suffering of workers and the poor.
Take Britain’s largest electricity distributor, UK Power Networks. It is currently owned by Hong Kong tycoon Victor Li, who is currently in talks to sell the company for an estimated £15 billion.
What’s more, these modern-day energy barons hide away their ill-gotten gains in tax havens, offshore subsidiaries, and holding companies.
In 2019, many energy companies moved their businesses offshore to protect shareholders’ interests. SSE, for example, hid themselves behind a holding company in Switzerland; and National Grid moved their businesses to Luxembourg and Hong Kong.
This highlights why demands for a windfall tax – as Starmer’s Labour has suggested – are doomed to fail.
In any cast, recent bumper profits are just the tip of the iceberg. As long as these vital industries are left in private hands, the bosses will continue to hold a gun to society’s head, threatening blackouts whilst demanding bailouts.
The solution to this crisis lies neither in the tepid reforms proposed by Labour, nor the scraps offered by the Tories.
Instead, the labour movement should organise and fight for expropriation.
Many (including some left-wingers) have recently called for the government to confiscate the property of Russian oligarchs who are hiding their assets in the UK.
We say: expropriate all the billionaires! Seize the energy companies, bring them under workers’ control, and run them for need, not greed!
In the hands of the bosses, the energy sector has been run into the ground. Millions are forced to ‘choose’ between heating and eating.
Now is the time for bold action to solve the cost-of-living catastrophe that is hammering the working class.
Cut out the parasites! Nationalise the energy monopolies! For a socialist plan of production to provide warm homes and clean, affordable energy for all!